Where to buy reggae music in Jamaica
April 20, 2007 12:56 AM   Subscribe

Where's the best place in Jamaica to spend my life savings on Reggae music? I am going to be in Jamaica for one day. My cruise lands in Ocho Rios. I have from 8:30am to 3:30 pm and I want to spend every penny I can spare on music I can't get anywhere else. Please help. Do I have time to drive/ride to Kingston? Do I need to go to Kingston? Or does Ochos have somewhere I can go? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks. ps. I don't/can't do wax. I'm a child of the 80s/90s. CDs are where it's at. pps. Any jerk places not full of tourists I should stop at along the way to my music shop?
posted by gummo to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ocho Rios to Kingston, by car is about 54 miles (87 km), but the roads are scary enough across the center of the island that it generally takes at least 2 hours to get there. Buses are slower still. It doesn't seem practical to plan to spend 5 to 6 hours of your time on island trying to get to Kingston and back by bus (if you'd be that lucky), and you don't want to try to rent a car (driving on the left gets a few Americans killed every year, and the ubiquitous goats that run around everywhere get a few more).

In Ocho Rios you can probably find a taxi to take you to GG's Records or Acquarius. But save a few bucks for the Ruins Restaurant, or The Jerk Center. Every place in Ocho Rios is full of tourists, when the boats drop anchor. That's what Ocho's about. The good news is that there is something like safety in numbers, if you can stick with other tourists. Stay on the beaten paths, and you'll be fine.
posted by paulsc at 3:18 AM on April 20, 2007

I think you will most likely find the addresses of the music stores at a forum dedicated to Jamaica or to reggae music. And, the real answer may be "in New York or Miami or London," which are the cities where most of the business and production and record buying happens in this genre. Also, contemporary music in Jamaica is pretty much 100% dancehall, with very little old-style reggae being listened to and produced -- to grossly stereotype, the only people listening to old-style reggae are white people, the japanese, and a few rastas here and there (obviously, like any wide-brush stereotype, this is worth what you are paying for it, and in reality things are a bit more complicated). So if you are looking for dancehall cds, you are in luck; if you want old-school reggae and dub, a serious collectors' music store in New York or London will probably have more records and less sales tax.

All that said, there are good music stores in Kingston, although getting there and back and getting your shopping done will be a bit tight in terms of time. It takes an hour or two between the cities, depending on traffic (there are a couple of places on the way where traffic can really back up, and then in Kingston traffic can be really bad). So if traffic is bad, and your lunch stop took longer than you wanted, you won't have much shopping time. To save time, you will want to charter a taxi (rather than taking buses), which won't be cheap. I don't know Ocho, but if there are any music stores there, they would be tourist-focused (because everything in Ocho is tourist-focused), so their stock would probably be closer to what you are looking for. Any taxi driver would know where to take you. I'd say give it a try -- it's a lot more interesting than what most cruise-ship passengers get up to on their stopovers.
posted by Forktine at 3:34 AM on April 20, 2007

I spent 8 months living in Kingston last year and actually had trouble finding good record shops (as I still call them). My Jamaican colleagues told me to try the malls on Constant Spring Road and I eventually found a few small places with not great selections. In fact all the cds I bought (70's & 80's reggae, Culture, U Roy, I Roy, Prince Far I, stuff like that) while living in Kingston I could just as easily have bought over here in Europe. Prices are about the same as the states, maybe a little cheaper.

The best places that I found were shops selling musical instruments, you may have to ask about cds at the counter. I seriously doubt that you will find anything that you can't get anywhere else unless you are after obscure dancehall stuff.

Ochee to Kingston is a one to two hour drive depending on traffic. Allow minimum 2 hours to return to Ochee.

No jerk recommendations as I'm vegetarian.

My advice would be to not bother going to Kingston (due to your limited time), and checking out these websites; Blood & Fire and Soul Jazz.
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 3:41 AM on April 20, 2007

If you're going to check out websites, reissue labels are nice (Auralux is another good one), but my favorite is Ernie B's Reggae.

(And, no offense, but saying that you want to buy obscure reggae but not vinyl is like saying you want to learn to swim without getting wet.)
posted by box at 6:19 AM on April 20, 2007

Don't bother trying to get to Kingston. You;d have to rent a car, learn to drive on the left, change some money, get to Kingston, find your way to a store through Kingston's interesting traffic, get back to Ocho Rios, return the car...
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:08 AM on April 20, 2007

(And, no offense, but saying that you want to buy obscure reggae but not vinyl is like saying you want to learn to swim without getting wet.)

Well, I'm thinking more along the lines of local talent that hasn't 'made it' yet. And maybe never will. I imagine that, just like anywhere else, Jamaica has 100 local acts for every one that ever gets a cd shipped offshore. I know that some of my favorite music is from local bands I found in Arizona and California that never 'made it'. My intention in Jamaica was just to buy a (hopefully huge) box of home-made cds by local djs and local talent. Stuff that I couldn't get elsehwhere. Finding old vinyls of I Roy and Prince Far I isn't what I had in mind. I have a couple cds burned by a local reggae dj (local in AZ) that is just great. It's mixes and home made beats that this guy made. I just figured that the selection of stuff like that in Kingston would make me drool.

Thanks for the info. Any more comments you have after this clarification is welcomed.

posted by gummo at 2:13 PM on April 20, 2007

ps. Thanks for the Ernie B's link.
posted by gummo at 2:15 PM on April 20, 2007

Caveat: I know a lot more about '70s reggae than I do about the modern stuff. In the '70s, though, the kinds of aspiring artists you're talking about would hang out in studios, and they'd cut singles and dubplates and whatnot. DJs and soundsystems were the big tastemakers, and the quickest route to 'making it' was to have somebody play your stuff at the club or the soundclash or whatever. From what I understand, DJs and soundsystems are still the big tastemakers, but I've got no idea whether Jamaican soundsystem DJs still use vinyl. If I was guessing, I'd say they did, but I really don't know.

Forgive the ramble, and good luck with your search. If you find anything really great, hit me up.
posted by box at 5:25 PM on April 20, 2007

Again, you aren't going to find much "reggae" for sale, if you mean stuff that sounds like Bob Marley or Peter Tosh etc -- that stuff is produced for and sold to tourists and for foreign markets; you will find far more selection and variety (and more artists producing that kind of music) in cities like New York, London, and probably Tokyo. The tourist-focused shops in Ocho will have this stuff, plus new dancehall cds, if that is what you want.

What you will find in Kingston are mix tapes and mix CDs by prominent sound-system DJs, like Kilimanjaro and Stone Love, with new rhythms and so on -- exclusively cutting edge dancehall, really good stuff, but not "reggae" in the way most people use the term. But those CDs become available almost instantly in Miami, New York, and so on, so you may not gain much by doing your shopping there. You will find some gems, and you will be the first to get certain albums a week or a month before they get popular in America or the UK, but there isn't a thriving "indie" scene like there is in some places with rock. The music scene is a bit more like old-style Nashville, with producers and sound-systems being the big filters, rather than the grassroots punk rock / indie scene that came much later in the US and the UK. There are obviously exceptions to this, but in general terms I think this is accurate.

So I think you are being romantic and looking for something (a vibrant grassroots old-style reggae scene) that just doesn't exist. And to the extent that it does (albeit almost exclusively for dancehall), you are downplaying the extent to which it is transnational, depending on connections between Jamaica and Miami/New York/London (and increasingly with parts of Latiin America), and new stuff becomes available in those cities as fast or faster than it does in Jamaica; because people in the US and the UK have more disposable income than they do in Jamaica, more music is available to buy as CD (instead of being available mostly through radio and soundsystems, as it is in Jamaica).
posted by Forktine at 5:42 PM on April 20, 2007

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